One Man’s Story of Maintaining Judaism in the Face of Soviet Tyranny

In 1972, a Soviet Jewish systems engineer named Yitzchak Kogan found out that the technology he was working on was being shipped to Egypt and Syria. Unable to stomach the idea of aiding the Jewish state’s enemies, he applied for permission to leave for Israel. Although fourteen years elapsed before he and his wife obtained exit visas, they were immediately fired from the jobs. The two returned to Russia in 1991, just five years after gaining their freedom, and Kogan became the rabbi of a Moscow synagogue, and remains active in Jewish communal and religious life.

From his childhood on, Kogan—known among Chabad Ḥasidim as the tsaddik (righteous man) of Leningrad—obtained a Jewish education and observed Jewish practices in defiance of the regime, and sometimes at great personal risk. Dovid Margolin writes:

As soon as Kogan began attending Soviet public school, his parents hired the first of a string of m’lamdim, Jewish religious teachers, to come to their home. . . . It was not only what the old men taught Kogan that he absorbed, but what they left unsaid. Each of them, without exception, had suffered for his beliefs at the hands of the Communist regime. [One] teacher, Rabbi Berel Medalia, was the son of Rabbi Shmarya Leib Medalia, a Lubavitcher Ḥasid who served as chief rabbi of Moscow before being arrested and executed by Stalin in 1938; three of Rabbi Shmarya Leib’s sons were likewise arrested. Berel Medalia served something like a decade in the Gulag system. . . . Despite everything, in addition to teaching children like the Kogans, over the years Medalia became a quiet Jewish influence on many young refuseniks.

As Kogan’s bar mitzvah approached in the summer of 1959, his mother feared the ceremony would summon unwanted interest from the authorities, and turned to the recently released [from imprisonment] Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein for advice. Epstein instructed her to hold the bar mitzvah in a small summer vacation town outside Leningrad. “He also said that Papa shouldn’t be there,” Kogan explains. “Instead of my father, Rabbi Epstein made the Barukh she-p’tarani [the blessing a father recites at his sons’ bar mitzvah].”

Kogan would later train to be a ritual slaughterer, in order to provide Leningrad’s Jews with kosher meat, and served as a sort of unofficial rabbi for his fellow refuseniks:

Among the many young Jewish refuseniks who credit the Kogans’ assistance on their path to Judaism were Lev and Marina Furman, who first connected with them in 1974. They would recall joining about 50 others at the Kogans’ apartment for their first kosher Passover seder. Other communal activities at the Kogan home included Hebrew and Jewish study circles and Purim shpils.


More about: Refuseniks, Soviet Jewry

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7